It’s the second week of February, and love is in the air, at least the gaudy buy-some-flowers-or-you-obviously-don’t-love-them type of love is. Rather than subscribe to this apparent obligation to buy things to display my undying love, I thought instead, that I would write a truly passionate declaration of adoration to one of my first travel loves:
The Local Bus…
Loud, uncomfortable, rusty, dangerous, and slow; local buses typically don’t have the best reputation when it comes to a reliable choice of adventure transport. However, given the choice between a busy and ramshackle public bus, or a spacious, air-conditioned private one, my heart will only be drawn one way.
Travelling by bus definitely isn’t one of the most glamorous travel options, but what they lack in luxury, they more than make up for in flexibility, convenience, and affordability; alongside walking and the humble bicycle, buses are the go-to form of transport for much of the planet, and there are very few settlements in the world which can’t be reached by a bus of one description or another.
From the iconic jeepneys of the Philippines, to the chicken buses of Guatemala, via the Kenyan matatus, and Tanzanian dala-dalas; local buses are universally a bit bashed up, sport excellent paint jobs, names, and slogans, and will ultimately get you absolutely anywhere you need to go. Even in those parts of the world where rivers replace roads, most of the boats which serve these communities share very similar features to our buses, and so for the purposes of this post can be considered buses on water!
A case in point; even In a continent the size of Africa: complete with its 54 countries and thousands of cities and smaller settlements, you would be hard pressed to find somewhere you can’t get to by a bus of some description. It might require waiting for hours, it might be a bus the size of a small car crammed full of people, and it might require travelling on the roof, but it’ll still get you there, and you can almost guarantee an adventure along the way – you might even end up driving it yourself!
There is something incredibly exciting about the fact that an informal public transport network exists, which if you wanted to, would allow you to cross an entire continent without leaving the ground. In fact I was so excited by this possibility, that I tried to put it to the test, and although officially unsuccessful thanks to the civil war in Sudan, the resultant adventure saw me traversing most of the African continent from Nairobi in Kenya all the way down to Cape Town in South Africa, almost exclusively by public buses, a trip which well and truly cemented my love for this under-appreciated form of transport.
Still not convinced? Read on to check out the top five reasons I fell in love with these marvellous machines:
Reasons I Love Local Buses…
1. Bus Window Snacks – I am a huge fan of trying different and exciting local food options whilst travelling, and you don’t get much more exciting than something you have bought through a bus window. From pineapples and boiled eggs, to crickets and meat sticks of dubious origin, you can be sure these road trip snacks will be more memorable than your regular service station sandwich.
2. Unexpected destinations – Long distance buses aren’t that common in certain parts of the world, and if they are, they often come with a hefty price tag attached. If you want a cheaper, more adventurous option, then chances are you will be able to break up your larger journey into smaller sections by bus hopping from town to town along your route. Not only does this allow you to see more people and places along the route, it might also mean that you end up having to make an unplanned stop in the middle of nowhere, like I had to do in northern Ethiopia which resulted in a brilliantly unexpected evening!
3. Meeting people – There is a reason it’s called public transport! Unlike most of the interactions you have with people on public transport in the UK (headphones in, absolutely no eye contact), bus travel elsewhere can be quite the social event. With hours to spare whilst the bus slowly weaves its way towards your destination, you have the perfect opportunity to chat to your fellow passengers – if they don’t get in there first. I have spent many a happy bus journey putting the world to rights, laughing and joking with new friends, looking after small children, and practising my limited foreign language skills - it is one of the best ways to learn more about where you are, and where you are going.
4. Bus Stations – There is something absolutely magical about the chaotic beauty of a bus station. Transport hubs are always a glorious mix of people arriving and departing, and the sense of adventure and exploration at a bus station is palpable, with buses heading off on adventures in every direction. Which one will you pick? Whichever one you end up taking, make sure you spend some time at the bus station before leaving, where you can be sure you’ll be able to get some delicious snacks whilst you enjoy some excellent people watching.
5. Slow Travel – Planes are excellent for getting places fast, and trains will allow you to travel in relative comfort in a long straight line, but only local buses travel through the beating heart of a country. Buses can take you through spectacular unspoilt countryside, swerve to avoid wayward livestock in a rural village, stop at little known towns and monuments, and drive down the bustling streets of one of the world’s mega cities, all in a single journey! Buses force you to engage with the environment you’re travelling through at street level, something which I think can only serve to enhance your experience.
If you’ve got some time on your hands, and you’re willing to put a little bit of trust in the universe that everything will work out, then I can promise you that a slightly tired looking, rust-flecked local bus, with an outrageous paint job and music blaring out of its struggling sound system, truly is the best way to travel.
Do you agree with me? Perhaps you are already a local bus travel aficionado? Maybe you think I’m completely wrong, and you hate travelling by bus, or you sat in the wrong seat, and ended up with somebody else’s vomit on the back of your legs?! Either way, I’d love to hear about your experiences, and what you think about bus travel - Let me know your best/worse experiences in the comments below, and in the meantime – happy travels!